Yes, I’m picking the 49ers to win the Super Bowl, even though they’ve spent most of preseason making that February outcome seem beyond the realm of earthly reason.
They have one more preseason game — Thursday night in Houston — and if exhibition form holds the 49ers front-liners will play sparingly and a bit clumsily.
Meanwhile, the defending champion Seattle Seahawks have looked relatively invincible — it’s only August, but any version of invincibility at any time is something of a positive indicator.
For, you know, future and possibly perpetual invincibility.
And, of course, the 49ers have played well but fallen short in each of the last three seasons under Jim Harbaugh.
I’m still picking the 49ers, though. I have several reasons for this, but the main one involves the pride of that locker room and the sense that the 49ers’ core group has one more run it in and won’t go oh-for-four in their Super Bowl quest.
Even if things look a bit dodgy at present. Right, Patrick Willis?
“The only thing that matters is what we believe in this locker room,” Willis said this week when I asked about the question marks surrounding this team now. “And we believe in each other, we believe in what we have here.
“If it’s easy, we’ll take it. If not, then we’ll earn it. As we always do.”
It won’t be easy. It’s never easy once you get to the playoffs, as the 49ers have learned, but this year there are obstacles everywhere and Week 1 is still more than a week away.
Let’s run down the 49ers’ summer woes:
They’ll start the season without defensive superstars NaVorro Bowman (hurt and out through mid-season at least) and Aldon Smith (due for an NFL suspension any day now).
Remaining defensive superstars Justin Smith and Willis have been given kids-glove treatment through training camp and the exhibition season, a reminder that they aren’t quite young pups any more.
The 49ers’ first-string offense has looked awful in the first three exhibition games, most notably in pass protection, which may have dampened their plans to open up things for quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Notably, right guard Alex Boone is still holding out and probably won’t be with the team to start the regular season.
Oh, and there’s the whole brewing situation with Harbaugh’s contract, which might lead to contentious negotiations with owner Jed York next offseason.
So, other than the 49ers’ fancy new stadium, things don’t look bright and shiny for this team right now, and the stadium doesn’t look quite so wondrous if you care about things such as a playable and permanent grass field.
But I’ve decided that the outside fretting and anxiety might make all the counter-intuitive difference for the 49ers this postseason. It might even calm them down.
“I’ve never seen worrying help anyone’s problems or help anyone get better,” Kaepernick said this week. “So we’re not going to worry.”
Let’s say the 49ers start off a little slowly, which isn’t much of a stretch.
I’m saying that the 49ers will address their troubles after a few games, make the adjustments, eventually get their best injured or absent players back, and then, to use some of Harbaugh’s parlance, the 49ers can re-tool, re-group and re-set themselves for a fresh run into deep winter.
By the way, it would also be a huge help for the 49ers if somebody else can knock off Seattle in an early round of the playoffs.
And that’s exactly the fate I’m predicting for Seattle, given the recent quick-exit history of past Super Bowl champions in their follow-up year.
It’s just tough to remain invincible for that long.
Plus, I won’t pick Denver (the Super Bowl runner-ups are almost as bad the next season) or New England (I’ve picked the Patriots too many times) and I can’t come up with another viable AFC team.
So — again, if you eliminate Seattle — it’s realistically down to New Orleans, Green Bay or the 49ers.
And I’m picking the team with the best defensive players and the quarterback with the most room to grow and offensive weaponry stacked all around him.
I’m picking the 49ers, who understand the significance of this season, after the last three playoff defeats.
If they don’t do it now, the core 49ers know that they may never do it. That’s a pretty good motivation, no?
“You have to stay hungry,” Willis said. “You can’t get this far and start looking the other way, like ‘You know, maybe it’s just not us.’
“We have every right, every opportunity to go after it again and bring it home.”
At the end of the session, I asked Willis: Are you personally better than ever? Are you still in your prime?
“We’ll see,” Willis said. He was smiling when he said it; well, it was sort of a smile and sort of a challenge, too.
We’ll see about Willis, about Bowman, about Kaepernick, about Harbaugh, about this whole 49ers era, and I think all of them relish that it’s coming down to this. So they can keep stinking it up in August if they want; I’m still picking the 49ers to win Super Bowl XLIX.